To lose any game when you’re 2-1 up in the 86th minute is careless, but to capitulate with victory over Real Madrid within touching distance in the Santiago Bernabeu stadium is criminal.
With just four minutes of regulation time remaining Aleksander Kolarov’s 30 yard free kick bamboozled the massed Madrid defence and looked destined to give Manchester City a most amazing Champions League victory.
Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory used to be what battle weary, down trodden Sky Blue fans used to call ‘Typical City’ during decades of football pain and chronic under achievement. Lapses in defensive concentration brought the anguish of yesteryear flooding back as a Cristiano Ronaldo inspired Madrid conjured up two late goals leaving City shell-shocked and devastated.
The Portuguese genius is reviled by many as a ’petulant Pretty Boy’ but love him or loathe him there’s no escaping he is a supreme talent and he tormented City all night long. He terrorized Maicon down the right flank and mesmerized the usually imperious Vincent Kompany on numerous occasions. There was a chilling inevitability that he would eventually breach City’s defences as time and again he tested Joe Hart.
It was an unfamiliar looking back four with Mitaj Nastasic catapulted into a surprise debut at the expense of the less mobile, but highly reliable Joleon Lescott. Maicon retained his slot at right back despite pre-match opinion that Pablo Zabaleta would start. Clichy was preferred to Kolarov and, with Kompany captaining his troops, City repelled wave after wave of attacks as Real dominated the first 45 minutes.
Hart performed heroically with saves from Ronaldo, a point blank header from Higuain, as well as standing tall when the big Argentine sprang City’s offside trap and went one-on-one with the keeper. Apart from a couple of Yaya Toure breaks up field, City had shown nothing offensively. The loss of Nasri to a pulled hamstring on the half hour hindered City’s attack but they went into half time all square.
The second half was far more evenly contested. David Silva was substituted to generous applause from the 67,000 crowd in the 63rd minute. Six minutes later his replacement Edin Dzeko lit the blue touch paper on the five goal fireworks.
Irrepressible Yaya emerged from a scrum of Madrid players to surge up field before releasing an inch perfect pass into the Bosnian’s stride pattern. The often maligned Dzeko stayed calm and beat the outstretched Iker Casillas with aplomb. Roberto Mancini’s counter attacking tactics were working well but could City hold out for 20 minutes? Sales of incontinence pants would be soaring back in Manchester!
The industrious Marcelo delivered the answer in the 75th minute when, left unmarked on the edge of the 18 yard box, he wrapped his right foot around a shot that Javi Garcia could only deflect past Hart. Within a minute Tevez fired a low ball across Madrid’s six yard area with Zabaleta a whisker away from an immediate City riposte.
Real ratcheted up the anti once again, bombarding the City goal. It was akin to a duck shoot as Alonso, Marcelo and Di Maria came close. Mourinho’s double substitution of Modric and Benzema was paying dividends. But it was Benzema who needlessly fouled Zabaleta. The ensuing long range strike from Kolarov had the City fans in raptures high in the heavens on the 4th tier in the Bernabeu – close to jumping over the Blue Moon.
The French striker made amends within seconds, spinning away from the impressive Nastasic and placing his shot with pinpoint precision past Hart. 2-2 but still a fair reward for City’s dogged efforts.
Mourinho fist pumped the air at the equalizer but it was nothing to the knee slide celebration that was to follow three minutes later.
The normally dependable Zabaleta allowed Ronaldo to cut in onto his right foot to shoot, Kompany inexplicably ducked away leaving Hart with no chance to react to the dipping drive.
The Bernabeu exploded in Madridista relief and joy as City crumbled into distraught devastation.
City, more than anyone, know the unadulterated joy that two late goals can bring, so to be on the receiving end evoked the polar opposite – utter desolation. 3-2 game over.
By David Walker